26 September 2005

Losing My Religion - Part IV: Choosing My Religion

    Come come whoever you are
    Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,
    Ours is no caravan of despair
    Come yet again come.
      Hymn #188 in
      Singing the Living Tradition
      the Unitarian Universalism hymnal

This is part of a series that begins here. The post before this one is here.

One of many traditions at our New Years parties was brought to us by our friend Beth. Sometime after midnight everyone thinks of something they want to give up or let go in the coming year. They write it down on slips of paper which are then gathered in pan and burned. Beth usually brings magician's flash paper, so they go up rather dramatically. For the past three years, I had written down God, religion, or both.

One year, in a conversation loosened by alcohol, I explained what I had written and why. The details of the discussion are (understandably) a little vague now, but when it was over I had decided to visit a Unitarian Universalist church and our friend Rob said he'd go with me.

I had begun poking around the UU website looking for alternatives to the Episcopal religion that I was having so many issues with. Dennis, my older daughter's godfather and a great friend, had once told me about Unitarian Universalism. What immediately attracted me was the lack of creed or dogma that defines what to believe. Instead, there is a set of guiding principals that define how one should act. In the Episcopal Church, my problem was never with how we were supposed to act. My problem was always with what we were supposed to believe.

So Rob and I went to the UU service. In many ways, it was very similar; there were hymns, a sermon, and readings. In many ways it was very different; the readings were from Hindu sacred texts, and I had never sung "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! in church before. The service was about consumption, our need to consume, and the responsibility to use our resources wisely, hence the choice of music. Afterward we attended a discussion meant to introduce Unitarian Universalism to newcomers. I thought this might be what I wanted to do, but it would take another two years to do it.

I kept going to the UU church's web site, mulling the idea of making the switch as I struggled with leaving the Episcopal church. Yet when I finally left, I held off. We spent a lot of time talking about if we shoud go, how we should go, when we should go, and so on. It would be tough entering a new church where everything was different and we knew no one. We also didn't know if this was something the kids really wanted. Finally we asked them, and they said they wanted to try it out. So we did.

I'm happy to say we've been going for several months now. It was difficult at first, but we've gotten beyond the intial awkwardness. We went to the picnic and the fall Harvest Dinner. We now know a few people, and the kids have made a few friends.

I think the girls are happy with our decision. Sharon and I concluded that it was important for them to have a religious education. The more we learn about the religious education program, the more certain we are that this is what we wanted. The goal is to give them the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about what they believe. It was interesting to see how many other parents were looking for the same thing we were.

For me, I finally find myself looking forward to church again. There have certainly been some interesting services. I like to tell the story of the pagan cakes and ale ceremony. The service explored the importance of meals in various religions, then focused on the pagan ritual. We all participated in the meal, which included real ale from a local brewpub. Cracking open a growler in church was yet another first for me. Most of the services are less exotic, but no less worthwhile. In a few weeks, I'll be attending a meeting after services to discuss membership.

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